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Why Proposals Are Not Funded - Three Views

Assuming that funding is available, that geographical distribution is not a criterion, and that political considerations are not present, the success of a proposal will depend both on the value of the project itself, the quality of its presentation in the proposal, and the credibility of the researcher proposing the project. Different reviewers, of course, will weigh merits and defects differently, but the following list of short-comings of 605 proposals rejected by the National Institutes of Health is worth considering.

  • The Problem or Question to be Studied (58 %)
  • Researcher's Approach to the Problem (73 %)
  • The Principal Investigator (55 %)
  • Other Reasons (16 %)

From the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Comes a Slightly Different List of Reasons Why Proposals Are Not Funded

  • The project was outside the purview of the proposed sponsor.
  • The subject was not relevant to an issue of regional or national importance.
  • The methodology appeared to be flawed.
  • There have been a number of similar projects funded.

Common Proposal Problems - As Noted by Reviewers

  • Title: Too long, confusing, cute but distracting, not program related.
  • Cover Page: Does not follow format precisely, does not include all necessary information.
  • Abstract: Not comprehensive, omits significant elements, poor grammar or spelling, too long (more than 1 page).
  • Table of Contents: Not included, inaccurate pagination.
  • Institution Description and Statement of Need: Irrelevant information, does not lead reader to proposal objectives, good history-so what?, too long, deals with wants rather than needs, no documentation, unrelated to objectives/outcomes, desires, problem already solved, not supported by current research.
  • Objectives/Outcomes: Not clear, too ambitious, omitted, procedures rather than objectives.
  • Innovation: Not new or innovative, attempt to justify new equipment, materials. not clearly described.
  • Review of the Literature: Unrelated to needs, objectives, innovations, does not lead reader, dated materials.
  • Task/Activity Plan: Insufficient time, tasks not related to objectives, task not justified by needs, time and task charts not included, responsibilities not clear.
  • Collaborative Efforts: Names and responsibilities of all involved in proposal not identified, no identification of institutions involved.
  • Evaluation: Unrelated to objectives, unrelated to innovation, not usable in assessing program, uses outmoded or inaccurate methods.
  • Budget: Unrelated to activities, little or no institutional contribution, amounts not supported by reasonable data, budget justification missing, categories not those of funding source, budget cannot be sustained after project ends.
  • Project Staff: No identification of responsibilities and roles, no documentation of competence, no indication of time each staff member will contribute to project.

Last Updated: 10/28/09